There were mixed fortunes for Russian players in the VTB Kremlin Cup quarterfinals. Marketa Vondrousova opened play by ousting former champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 6-2, ending the No.4 seed's hopes of qualifying for the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara. Ekaterina Alexandrova kept the home flag flying, though, with a 6-3, 6-4 upset of No.1 seed Aryna Sabalenka.
World No.37 Alexandrova's victory was her sixth over a Top 10 player, and third against Top 5 opposition. She levelled her head-to-head against Sabalenka at 2-2, having previously defeated the Belarusian 6-2, 7-5 in the 2017 Shenzhen ITF W60 final before losing to her at Tour level twice in 2019, in Shenzhen and St. Petersburg.
Ekaterina Alexandrova's Top 10 wins
d. Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-2, R2 Seoul 2018
d. Simona Halep 6-2, 6-3, R2 Beijing 2019
d. Simona Halep 6-2, 6-1, QF Gippsland Trophy 2021
d. Elina Svitolina 6-4, 7-5, R2 Berlin 2021
d. Ons Jabeur 6-1, 1-0 ret., R1 Moscow 2021
d. Aryna Sabalenka 6-3, 6-4, QF Mocow 2021
The result puts Alexandrova, 26, into her third career WTA 500 semifinal following St. Petersburg 2020 and the 2021 Gippsland Trophy. It continues her historic indoor excellence: she was also the 2018 Linz runner-up and a three-time champion at the Limoges WTA 125 tournament.
Stat corner: Alexandrova's superiority on serve and off the ground was borne out in the numbers. She tallied 21 winners to 17 unforced errors, while Sabalenka's 21 unforced errors were only balanced by 11 winners. Maintaining a first serve percentage of 63%, Alexandrova was only broken once, at the start of the second set.
Alexandrova also found joy with smart returning, repeatedly aiming the ball deep at Sabalenka's feet to elicit errors - a tactic that paid off handsomely as she broke to seal the opening set.
Key points: After breaking Sabalenka twice to dominate the first set, Alexandrova found herself under greater pressure throughout the second. A bout of unforced errors and one of three Sabalenka double faults enabled her to break back for 2-2, but at 4-4 the home player faced triple break point at a crucial juncture.
She rose to the challenge magnificently. Three unreturnable serves and two bold forehand winners extricated her from that game, and in the next Alexandrova maintained her momentum to break Sabalenka for the match - sealing her first match point with a dead net cord.
Vondrousova ends Pavlyuchenkova's WTA Finals hopes
World No.35 Vondrousova's second win over Pavlyuchenkova in the past month also had the effect of knocking the Roland Garros finalist out of contention to qualify for the WTA Finals. Pavlyuchenkova can no longer gain enough points to finish in the Top 8.
Having won 6-3, 6-3 in the second round of the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic, Vondrousova once again dropped only six games to Pavlyuchenkova. This time, she had to come from 1-4 down in the first set to do so.
Pavlyuchenkova lifted the Moscow trophy in 2014, was runner-up in 2015 and 2019, and was bidding for her fifth semifinal appearance in the tournament. Buoyed by her home crowd, she made an electric start, swatting winners to every corner of the court. But when errors began to creep into her game, Vondrousova took full advantage, turning the match around by rattling off seven straight games.
Highlights: Vondrousova d. Pavlyuchenkova
Following her opening loss of serve, Vondrousova would only face - and save - one further break point against her. She remained consistent in the face of an increasingly hit-or-miss Pavlyuchenkova, coming up with a strong serve or delicate dropshot every time there seemed to be any danger of a momentum shift. A third ace would ultimately seal her second match point.
The Olympic silver medallist finished with 15 winners to Pavlyuchenkova's 16, but only 14 unforced errors compared to her opponent's 32.